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The sky glares

Recent New Zealand non-fiction.

LOOK THIS WAY, edited by Sally Blundell (AUP, $44.99). Here's a smart idea, done very well. This is a book of enthusiasms: New Zealand writers on New Zealand artists. C K Stead remembers buying McCahons in the 60s and 70s ("The sky glares; the land frowns but doesn't blink," Stead says of a Helensville landscape). Chris Knox writes so vividly about the dark, wild James Robinson ("the overkill of images, the projectile vomitstream of unalloyed angst and joy") that you want to see all his work right now. Ian Wedde works up good, new descriptions of Bill Hammond paintings - "glinting with criminality" - and that's just for starters. Call it brainy entertainment.

LOUISE NICHOLAS: MY STORY, by Louise Nicholas and Philip Kitchin (Random House, $36.99). Brave, harrowing, important, probably cathartic. Chapters by "Phil" - the investigative journalist - alternate with chapters by Louise. Sample text from the latter: "Schollum is having trouble taking my dress off, my beautiful dress that Ross bought me in Whangamata. He's having problems and I'm feeling quite good about that. Oh, hell, it's off."

SHOT IN NEW ZEALAND: The Art and Craft of the Kiwi Cinematographer, by Duncan Petrie (Random House, $49.99). An Auckland University film professor evaluates the work of 14 leading New Zealand cinematographers, ordered alphabetically - from Waka Attewell to John Toon. Petrie's analysis of shooting styles is solid and reliable - he's alert to artistic decisions and their technical basis - and he even lets the artists themselves get a few words in. Here's the great Leon Narbey: "I love layering the image. With low-budget film-making you've got two people in a room and that's it. This becomes very boring cinema."

KATE'S KLASSICS, by Kate Camp (Penguin, $29.95). Notes from Camp: Kim Hill's regular guest adapts her radio chats for the page. Ten essays take us from Crime and Punishment to Wuthering Heights. Camp is bright and self-deprecating; she writes well and isn't afraid to be ambivalent about some of the received greats. On Moby-Dick: "There is only one way to eat a whale - one mouthful at a time - and Moby-Dick can sometimes feel like a very large meal." She's very much the ordinary reader, shocked to learn how early the Adam and Eve story appears in the Bible and "how quickly it is passed over" - how apt, then, that she spends less time on unpacking that story than on childhood memories of listening to Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat with its "witty, irreverent lyrics" by Tim Rice.

STOPOVER, by Bruce Connew (VUP, $40). Wellington photojournalist Bruce Connew went to Fiji seven times over three years - from 2000 to 2003 - partly to sort out contradictory ideas he was getting about Fiji: one adult daughter had married a Fijian-Indian and another had married a native Fijian and his sons-in-law seemed to be describing entirely different places. This small, impeccably designed book collects his silvery, dramatic black-and-white photos of Fijian-Indian workers at a sugar cane settlement - the kind of work Indians were imported to do more than 100 years ago. The ambition now - a hope that might best be transferred to children - is to move on again, no matter that Fiji feels more like home than India or New Zealand or Australia or Canada.

FLYING BOATS: My Father's War in the Mediterranean, by Alex Frame (VUP, $40). Twenty years after his father's death, researcher and law professor Alex Frame rereads the log books - 30 years, 7500 hours of flight - that his father kept as a flying boat pilot in war and peace. In Flying Boats, Frame is largely concerned with reconstructing the war in Malta, Greece and Crete - including the notorious tensions between the New Zealanders and the British - although a fascinating early chapter has us in Oamaru in the 1930s: yes, this Frame is a cousin of that Frame.

HINTERLAND: Rick Alexander's New Zealand Photographs (www.rickalexander.co.nz, $75). If Laurence Aberhart didn't exist, would Rick Alexander have to invent him? The same kind of moody Kiwi gothic - here an abandoned house, there a cemetery, over there a forlorn war memorial - is mined in the pages of this self-published book. Actually, Aberhart is thanked by Alexander - the former was an art teacher of the latter. The usual New Zealand story - fragility, unease, insecurity - is evoked in Peter Ireland's introduction, but these images are ghostlier, gloomier, more stylised but somehow less striking than those of his mentor.

TEA WITH MY TAPAS, by Judith Doyle (Renaissance, $27.99). If we had a dollar for every travel memoir sent in for review, we could holiday in Spain ourselves. In this one, by a New Zealander with two other travel books to her name, the observations don't extend far beyond the in-flight-mag banal - Spain is hot, Gaudi was crazy, isn't the Alhambra amazing? - such as in this example, from Cordoba: "Seeing the mosque and the cathedral side by side threw the two structures and the philosophy suggested by each into stark relief." Well, I never!

HOTEL CABANA: Thru the Decades, by Lee Pritchard (Book and CD, PO Box 12190, Ahuriri, Napier; $70 soft cover, $130 hardback). From the start of 10 o'clock closing until some time in the 90s, Napier's Cabana Hotel was New Zealand's quintessential rock'n'roll venue. For fans, the seedy dockside bar was the ultimate place to hear Hello Sailor, Midge Marsden or the Exponents. For the bands, it was the colourful clientele, squeaky bedsprings and antics of outrageous proprietoress Charlie Morrison that made the place legend. Both perspectives are recalled in this 280-page scrapbook, lovingly compiled by Cabana regular Lee Pritchard. The recollections are profusely illustrated with posters, photos and newspaper cuttings, while an accompanying CD finds Midge Marsden in full flight at a typically sweaty Cabana gig in 1982. An essential slice of Kiwi rock history. - Nick Bollinger